Managers today must confront new realities. Social and political turbulence, work-life fusion and hybrid work have added a new layer of complexity (and pressure) to their roles. Many employees are working in a hybrid world with more choices about where, when and how much they work. A few factors to consider:
– Employees are having fewer in-person interactions.
– Employees spend less time in offices.
– Employees are interacting less with their colleagues.
Plus, the responsibilities of managers — and the number of workers who report to them — have skyrocketed, making it more difficult to provide hands-on assistance. According to our research, 70% of HR leaders say managers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
As such, employees are turning to their colleagues for the help and advice they would have traditionally sought from a manager. “Employees feel like their managers know less about their day-to-day work than their peers and coworkers do, so employees are more likely to turn to their coworkers to get advice and job coaching,” says Brian Kropp, Chief of Research at Gartner. “This creates an environment where the average employee gets more value out of their peer relationships than their managerial relationship.”
Three factors affecting the traditional manager role
Traditional managerial success was based on the ability to manage and evaluate employee performance. This has shifted. Now, HR executives hire and develop managers who are poised to be great coaches and teachers. However, this model faces challenges thanks to three major trends: remote work, technology and shifting employee expectations.
1. Remote work: Employees and managers are spending more of their time working remotely and less time in offices. In 70% of manager-employee relationships, either the manager or the employee will be remote at least some of the time. Managers have considerably less visibility into the realities of their employees’ day-to-day and must begin to focus more on outputs and less on the processes used to produce them.
2. Technology: Companies have been buying technology that affects the tasks historically done by managers. Think: scheduling software, AI-enabled expense report auditing tools and even technologies to replace manager feedback with AI.
3. Employee expectations: Employees are more vocal about their needs for flexibility, influence and self-determination in the workplace, and their tolerance for dissatisfaction is at an all-time low. Employees now expect more authenticity, empathy and flexibility from their leaders, and amid the tightest labor market in a generation, there is little room for error. Thus, the relationships between employees and their managers have started to shift to be more emotional and supportive, expecting managers to be part of their support system to help them improve their life experience, rather than just their employee experience.
What is the role of a manager today?
Organizations must equip managers to operate in a more empathetic way. Employees of empathetic managers are less likely to quit, tend to be more engaged, have better overall well-being and perform at a higher level. Empathy is the key differentiator that drives employee performance in a hybrid world.
Empathy requires fostering trust and care and a culture of acceptance. This is a big ask and requires managers to:
1. Ask questions that produce vulnerable answers without compromising trust.
2. Diagnose the root cause of an employee’s behavior without making assumptions.
3. Demonstrate the social-emotional intelligence necessary to understand the feelings of another.
Gartner research shows only 47% of managers feel they are prepared to lead with empathy. “We’re moving toward someone who has to be almost like a social worker or school counselor to support their employees as they confront challenges, both at work and in their personal lives,” says Kropp. “If you don’t want your employees talking to you about their personal situations and needs, and you’re not going to be there to support them, odds are you shouldn’t be a manager.”